Suggested Reading: Books About Art, Individuals, and The Markets That Bring Them Together

So this week is kind of a big deal, Friday will be the 50th post! In light of this, I decided I work spice things up a bit by doing some new things this week. Today I am posting on a few books that revolve around the visual arts but are very reader friendly and can teach one a ton about art, its markets, and the some people that inhabit the art world, past and present. Some are more inspirational than others, and some are downright depressing when one realizes how absolutely subjective the art markets are. However, for anyone who is reading this blog because they want to learn more about the visual arts then here is some suggested reading to do whenever you have time. I know the second I graduate I am finally getting to a whole other stack of books that have been sitting, waiting, while I finish school. If anyone else has books to add, please comment below or email me @ theartdaily@gmail.com. Many of the readers of this blog are art historians or collectors themselves and I would love to know what YOU are reading. I have included my favorite one or two books in each category, and if you would like more please let me know!!

Artist's Biographies:

John Richardson's A Life of Picasso (in three parts)
1. A Life of Picasso: The Prodigy, 1881-1906
2. A Life of Picasso: The Cubist Rebel, 1907-1916
3. A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932
-> the definitive books on this incredible master, written by his close friend John Richardson. For anyone who wants to know everything there is to know about Picasso's life, loves, art and politics. An incredible read. I wish each of my favorite artist's had such a biographer.

Books about the Current Art Market and Industry:

Don Thompson's The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art (2008: Palgrave Macmillan)
This book uses Damien Hirst's work The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1993) to attempt to explain the economics that make the contemporary art market so volatile and elitist. Thompson does a phenomenal job explaining the different sectors of the market from the different tiers of dealers, to the backroom of auction houses, and to the ever-proliferating art fairs all over the world. The book reads like a thriller, I could not put it down. As someone who has spent much time learning about art movements in the past, to understand the marketing strategies of art that is being produced now was a new experience and I am glad Thompson was one of my introductions to the form and the market.

Sarah Thorton's Seven Days in the Art World (2009: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.)
A trip through different aspects of the art world (museums, auctions, dealers, art magazines, art critics, art prizes), Thorton's book is very much a light read that at times makes good points. For an overview of some of the many aspects of this multi-faceted industry it is a good quick read that I recommend for its more in-depth interviews with artists and individuals on the inside.

Art World Individuals:

Thomas Hoving's Making the Mummies Dance: Inside The Metropolitan Museum Of Art (1994: Simon & Schuster)
Written by the late former Director of the Metropolitan Museum, this autobiographical romp through the upper echelons of society and the highest tiers of museum administration is at once hilarious and sobering. By sheer force of will, and obviously exaggerated manipulation tactics, Hoving helped to build the Met as we see it today. From the blockbuster exhibitions that draw crowds to the museum to the huge banners that proclaim them, Hoving was there and he probably brought it about. Also discusses some of the largest scandals to have hit the museum, such as the looted Krater that had to be returned because of illegal obtainment. A really enjoying read, sadly the author passed very recently but this book has had a bit of a re-birth in popularity because of it.

Art Collections and Collecting:

Cynthia Saltzman's Old Masters, New World: America's Raid on Europe's Great Pictures (2008: Penguin Group)
Fabulous book on how two men, Lord Joseph Duveen and Bernard Berenson were able to make the immensely wealthy covet European Old Master paintings to the point of addiction. Part art history, part gossip column from the Gilded Age, this book is hard to put down and will make you look at every work in the Frick Museum and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in a new, fascinated, light. Also discusses how many of these great European art works later ended up in the Metropolitan Museum due to many of these collectors positions on its Board of Trustees, and the formation of those offices.

Art in World War II Europe:

Lynn H. Nicholas' The Rape of Europa : The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War (1995:Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)
Chronicles many of the world's most famous works of art and their journeys during this turbulent time. Includes portraits of the leading figures in the controversies from Goering to Gertrude Stein and everything between.


  1. Earlier this semester I tore through Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan's 2006 biography of Willem de Kooning; a really awesome read. If you're going to penetrate somebody's life for several months at a time, it had better be somebody as interesting and problematic as de Kooning. I've heard that the Richardson Picasso bio is similarly absorbing.

    I think it's out of print but if you can get your hands on it, Barbara Rose's "American Art Since 1900: A Critical History" is loaded with big ideas, color reproductions and gossipy tidbits (Rose is the former Mrs. Frank Stella); it's very worthwhile for anyone interested in American painting, from the Ash Cans and regionalism to conceptualism and Pop.

  2. I have heard that about the de Kooning book! I have yet to get my hands on one but that is definitely now on my summer reading list. Thanks for the great tip! I do actually have an old and beaten copy of American Art Since 1900 but I must admit that I haven't read it through yet, I seem to like making my way piecemeal through it. I will endeavor to correct my mistake!!